Staff Writer Alyssa McCutchan explores seasonal depression in its many forms
By: ALYSSA MCCUTCHAN
Winter Blues. Cabin fever. Winter depression. Phrases like this may not be uncommon to hear during the winter months, yet how serious do people take expressions like this? According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subtype of major depression. Symptoms may start out mild but can become more severe as the season progresses.
“To get diagnosed [with SAD] it has to be related to a season, for more than one season,” STLCC-Meramec counselor Dr. Susie Herman said. “You’re not depressed all the time, just during that season.”
The symptoms can vary from one season to the next and differ from one year to the next.
“One fall you have the doldrums,” Meramec counselor Dr. Harold Salmon said. “The next fall you experience the same thing.”
The Counseling Department at Meramec offers services to students who may show signs and symptoms of seasonal depression.
“If a student comes in and says something along the lines of ‘I have cabin fever,’ I’m going to talk to them about SAD and tell them they are not alone,” Herman said.
Having personally dealt with symptoms of SAD, Herman said she is able to empathize with students who may deal with similar struggles.
“I have worked with a couple of people over the years having had it,” Herman said. “They don’t realize initially what it is.”
The symptoms may include a feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness, signs of low energy, a loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, sleeping too much or too little, feeling depressed most of the day and changes in appetite, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“In the winter I get tired and I just want to hibernate from having low energy,” Herman said. “I didn’t hear the phrase until I was an adult. I found and article and saw there was a diagnosis for it.”
Herman said she was not diagnosed by a physician, but invested in a sun box to relieve symptoms. A sun box is a square device that contains a certain kind of light bulb that “helps us,” Herman said.
Light Therapy, also known as phototherapy, is one method of treatment for SAD. However, not all levels of SAD can be treated with just light therapy, a healthy sleep regiment, diet and exercise. Those who struggle with more severe symptoms of SAD may require medication and other forms of therapy, according to Herman.
Not everyone who has experienced some form of the winter blues will automatically be diagnosed with SAD, yet symptoms should not be overlooked, said Salmon.
It is not uncommon for nearly everyone on some level to become “more joyful when there is more sunlight” but that does not mean they have the official diagnosis, said Salmon.
According to the Mayo Clinic, more severe complications of SAD include suicidal thoughts and behaviors, social withdrawal, substance abuse and school or work problems.
“If anyone is even wondering at all ‘Is what I am feeling normal?’ or ‘Am I more depressed than what is considered normal?’ Then come on in,” Herman said.
Salmon said he feels the counseling department is completely underutilized and hopes students learn the value of the resources Meramec has to offer.
“It is incredibly disappointing at the percentage of students that take advantage of it,” Salmon said. “What would cost a student probably $300-500 at a private agency, our students have it available for free.”
The Counseling Department at Meramec is available many hours throughout the week and offers a variety of resources. The offices are located on the second floor of the Administration building. Counselors are available Monday – Thursday from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. and Friday 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Students can utilize services with or without an appointment. Students can make appointments by calling 314-984-7526.